Repressed memories

Other Names:
Suppressed memories of abuse

The term Repressed memories refers to the controversial claim that memories for traumatic events may be stored in the unconscious mind and blocked from conscious recall under normal conditions. As originally postulated by Freud, repressed memory theory claims that although an individual may be unable to recall the memory, it may still affect the individual through subconscious influences on behavior and emotional responding

Despite widespread belief in the phenomenon of repressed memories among laypersons and clinical psychologists, most research psychologists who study the psychology of memory dispute that repression ever occurs at all. While some psychologists claim that repressed memories can be recovered through psychotherapy (or may be recovered spontaneously, years or even decades after the event, when the repressed memory is triggered by a particular smell, taste, or other identifier related to the lost memory), most experts in the psychology of memory argue that, rather than promoting the recovery of a real repressed memory, psychotherapy can contribute to the creation of false memories. According to the American Psychological Association, it is not possible to distinguish repressed memories from false ones without corroborating evidence.

In part because of the intense controversies that arose surrounding the concepts of repressed and recovered memories, many clinical psychologists adopted the term dissociative amnesia to refer to the purported processes whereby memories for traumatic events become inaccessible , and the term dissociative amnesia can be found in the DSM-V, where it is defined as an "inability to recall autobiographical information. This amnesia may be localized (i.e., an event or period of time), selective (i.e., a specific aspect of an event), or generalized (i.e., identity and life history)." The change in terminology, however, has not made belief in the phenomenon any less problematic according to experts in the field of memory.

One study demonstrated of 100 women with a documented medical history of child abuse as children showed that 38% were unable to recall that abuse 17 years later. In the USA in 1993 it was reported that millions of dollars in insurance payments was underwriting years of therapy for thousands of patients who claim to have recovered memories of childhood abuse. The therapy may have been sought for other purposes supposedly quite unrelated to past abuse. Such recovery was virtually non-existent in the 1970s and is having a profound effect on the legal system. The statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse has been withdrawn in many states in the USA leading to criminal charges with awards up to $5 million.
Counter Claim:
It is questionable how much trust can be placed in memories of abuse that appear to emerge years later. Many cases indicate that the memories are confused with dreams and fantasy or can mix up the personalities involved.
Problem Type:
F: Fuzzy exceptional problems
Date of last update
07.07.1999 – 00:00 CEST